As the Alabama State Senate takes up the House’s gambling legislation, one thought comes to mind: What are our state legislators thinking?!

The House passed a bill that purports to be good because of all the extra tax revenue it will create for the state and all the good that extra money can do in our communities. But at what cost? The further degradation of civil life in those very communities!

So I must ask: What are you thinking, state legislators?!

I’m a grateful, transplanted, sweet-home-Alabamian. I’ve lived here long enough to know how much my heart has been blessed in being welcomed. I value the kindness of this joke: “Well, you ain’t from around here, but you’re good people, so’s we’ll let you stay.” I’ve grown to admire praying-with-pleading for the wellbeing of the Yellowhammer State, in the heart of the Deep South, on the buckle of the Bible Belt.

But as one who has seen up close what legalized gambling does to communities, I must ask our state legislators: What are you thinking?!

Growing up, it was my family’s summer delight to spend a week at a southern New Jersey beach community. Like many working-class families, we shared that meager, less than 1,000-square-foot, 3-bedroom, 1-bath, not-updated-since-the-1950s cement block vacation home with lots of cousins. (The close quarters are where I learned the value of love for my community!)

Those weeks formed some of my most significant memories about good community life. Even a son of the South would have admired the open kindness, the generous hospitality, and the willing neighborliness shared by total strangers – on vacation no less – simply because that was the community’s ethos. As a non-Christian at the time, it was a great place for me to learn about the Second Great Commandment of loving my neighbor, which is essential to true belief in the First Commandment of loving God with all my heart (Matthew 22:37-39).

Then the Garden State legalized gambling in 1976. The dark delights of the devilish dens of Atlantic City’s casinos became a cash cow for New Jersey state legislators. The future looked bright, yet over the next decade, the once “good” Jersey beach communities descended into cesspools of vileness and vice, where nary a voice of love for neighbor might be heard.

But ignore my anecdotal memories and check out the studies. Gambling is a social pathogen sucking good out of a community and leaving behind the worst social pathologies, a pollution of proportions that no extra tax revenue will cure.

Given the empirical evidence that the costs of legalized gambling outstrip its benefits by odds greater than winning the Powerball®, I must ask our state legislators: What are you thinking?!

Are you thinking you’ll fund programs to help families and children, ones that address [fill in the blank with the social pathology destroying your community]? You’re engaged in wishful thinking pitted against the truth, and these dreams of windfalls will swiftly blow away with the wicked wind of legalized gambling.

Legalized gambling will metastasize the number of people in your community who need access to such programs, bankrupting communities beyond resurrection. Worse, legalized gambling will introduce a host of social pathologies hardly present in your community right now.

What social programs will you create to address the legion of demonic destruction unleashed on those you’re called to civilly protect? Where will the funding for these new programs come from? Don’t look to increased tax revenues from legalized gambling. That cash cow is more insatiably ravenous than a civil leader’s horrific nightmare (Genesis 41). Even with all her coffers full, legalized gambling will only result in enslaving citizens to the dictates of its civil authorities (Genesis 47:14-26).

Please, state legislators: What are you thinking?

As a pastor, I am stunned that so many of you, professing faith in Christ, are not ashamed to even consider legalized gambling as a good and just thing for Alabamians. I appeal to someone higher, from whom you have received your appointment as a minister of civil justice (Romans 13:1).

What are you thinking?!

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (Proverbs 13:11 ESV)

What are you thinking?!

"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10a ESV)

What are you thinking?!

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 ESV)

Yes, the problems in our communities are real. The sufferers are not just data points on a social pathology graph. Yes, you are tasked by God to care for the least of these.

Yet legalized gambling is but a bargain made with a thief in a desert (Matthew 4:8-9). The distant, glittering lights of the gambling halls are intended to hide all the suffering going on in their shadows. You will only achieve worse suffering among those you’re called to serve.

What are you thinking? Please pause. Reconsider this pursuit of wealth for the state budget. It will only yield a remembrance of what once was a great state, full of great communities, where families were blessed to raise their children. Remembrance may very well become a “once was” myth, something our children’s children will never even remember.

State legislators, please rethink. Instead of legalizing more gambling in our great state, reverse course. Get rid of what is already legal and is destroying the very good you want to protect.

Rev. Dr. Reed DePace is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, Alabama.

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